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Need for true sisterhood

Todays WomanShaz and Tracy are at it again. The pair who’ve become known for their radio talk segment Hey Vajayjay, are diversifying their offerings as they’d told us we could expect. Tracy has started a blog about freezing her eggs.

Every positive and supportive space which is opened up for discussing female sexual or reproductive health is welcome in this island. There are many of us struggling through the vagaries of womanhood who are either ashamed or just too secretive to fully admit to the challenges and issues we face.

Tracy is a divorced 30 something year old and she has not yet experienced motherhood. She has opted to explore the option of freezing her eggs to give her a longer span on her ability to have pregnancy as an option. She blogs weekly about her journey with the treatments and emotions of preparing to have eggs harvested.

Before I took the time to read the blog, I’d never really considered my thoughts on egg harvesting. Reading the exchange helped me to formulate an opinion about the process. It certainly helped me to empathize with sisters who were facing these decisions if nothing more.

We do not empathize with each other enough as Barbadian women. We are steeped in the ‘oneupwomanship’ which was taught to us on the plantation. We still believe that if we look better or if we persuade ourselves our sex is better, that we get to hurt other women. I long for the day when Barbadian women move past this mentality and we really start to create a network of caring and support we can all benefit from.

Left to me personally, I would not freeze my eggs. Neither would I donate eggs to another woman to conceive a child. I would always wonder about my child somewhere out there in the wide, wide world. Some of us use the point of not being able to do something personally, though, as a launch pad for judging someone who can or who does.

This goes against my belief in a person’s right to do what is best for them. For their reasons and within their comfort. We pretend as if we do not know that life throws us curve balls and that the best plan can be easily set awry. Those of us who are married pretend as if there is not always a real worry that our relationships could fail at any moment.  Some of us know that our husbands are serial cheaters and we overlook the infractions for the perceived value added.

Others of us endure broken relationships with our men, mothers and sisters, such that we suffer abnormal Pap smear or breast examination results in fear and shame without support systems. For all these reasons, I am heartened that the Hey Vajayjay team continues to make its input.

The attitudes about other women extend beyond health issues though. Last Sunday, a mother who just gave birth to twin babies affected by microcephaly used a section of the media to make an appeal for assistance. The usual firestorm of reproach descended upon the young mother almost immediately. I long for the day when this mentality is rooted out of our response to such occurrences.

Despite how much a society tries to provide opportunities for all citizens, there will always be the one per cent poor among us. This does not suggest that these individuals are poor because they want to be or simply because they do not push to overcome it. In a capitalist philosophy, poor people provide cheap and easy labour. If our country is currently structured based on a capitalist model, then poor people are inherently necessary.

What message do we really want to send? That poor people in Barbados should not get pregnant? That reduces the amount of cheap available labour in the future. It would also further reduce an already unhealthy population growth rate. When we are talking about these cases in the paper, these are the realities we cannot ignore.

The other reality which we overlook is how much these cases reveal the entrenched gender inequality present in Barbados. We know that historically mothers have borne the brunt of child rearing and child care responsibilities. The society has not provided adequate support to assist these mothers with those responsibilities.

Many of the people who work for 50 dollars a day doing housekeeping or general work are single mothers. Most of those single mothers have been lamenting for years that the system of receiving and distributing child maintenance is broken and dysfunctional.

We have also not done the kind of social reengineering necessary to change our men’s perceptions about the roles of father and partner. The result is that we continue woman-shaming when children find themselves being born into unfortunate circumstances. May I remind the public? Somewhere in Barbados is a man who found a single mother struggling with three children. She was living in a single room in a house trying to make ends meet when a man decided to procreate with her and add more children to the family unit. He is as much responsible for finding a place for his twin to live as their mother is. Why are we not engaged in shaming him?

Both men and women in Barbados need to be able to talk about their parenthood choices in a more responsible manner. Women need to stop getting children before thinking about the costs and time restraints attached. Men need to understand that they too have an equal share of the responsibility for making and rearing children.

Outside of all of that, I want Barbadian women to stop feeling better than each other and using that as a privilege to judge. Even when people become more responsible for pregnancies, there will be unforeseen developments. Having a twin is always financially more demanding. Having a child with special needs is again another dimension.

More than money and an adequate space for her children, this young mother needs a sisterhood. She needs women to guide her, not judge her. She needs women to explain birth control to her and the power of choosing when to have children. She needs career guidance and reprieve from her young ones now and again.

I long to see a true sisterhood among Barbadian women and I am truly excited to see the Hey Vajayjay girls open another outlet, hopefully, towards that end.

(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies.
Email: mhindslayne

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